Oodles of noodles and big bucks of Buicks
Monday 01 April 1996
The American car company paid Gentle Ben big bucks (or big Buicks) to advertise their name on his cap so you can imagine their joy when the Texan, a rank outsider, won the tournament. A television audience of trillions would see Buick prominently displayed on Crenshaw's forehead. What happened next? As Crenshaw went into a crouching position, his cap fell off and Buick crashed to the ground. The car men must have been holding their heads in their hands.
Yes, we're talking product placement or, in Buick's case, product displacement. It is an industry within an industry and its practitioners require imagination and luck. No prizes for guessing what the players will be eating at the Cup Noodles Ladies Open this year.
Sport, in particular, lends itself to such advertising and Mark McCormack would claim to be one of the first to recognise the value of superstar as salesman when he turned Arnold Palmer into a corporation. One of the latest additions to the business empire is an Arnold Palmer Golf Academy where people can learn to play the game "Arnie style". That, of course, is complete nonsense but you can play with Arnie clubs on an Arnie course with Arnie balls.
A Formula One car and driver may be plastered with more advertising per square inch than Times Square, but pro golfers move more slowly and therefore have more time to get the message across. They are bombarded with endorsement offers and have now reached the point of having to employ a seamstress. When a player who is paid to wear certain brands of clothing appears in a team event, for example the Dunhill Cup, Dunhill will issue team cashmere sweaters. The seamstress then gets to work, sewing on the name of the company the player is contracted to. As for clubs, manufacturers are resigned to the fact that whilst paying somebody a fortune to play their brand, inside his bag are the clubs of a rival company.
The press are also suitable role models for product placement and we were familiar with the term "bung" long before football managers took backhanders at motorway service stations. I am up to here with receiving bags and shirts and would like something more imaginative. A nice pen, perhaps, or an upmarket wristwatch that wasn't made of Swiss chocolate.
Watches are very useful in the ad man's campaign and planes and cars are also ideal vehicles. No film is complete without a shot of a commercial airliner landing or taking off and what did it take for James Bond to switch from Aston Martin to a German machine?
The genre is not confined to commercial television. During a major sports event last year a leading commentator suddenly mentioned the name of an obscure bookmaker. Twice in the space of a minute. This wasn't one of the Big Four betting companies who regularly shower the media with their latest prices but a small firm in the South-West.
Luck, and taste, plays an important part. When Superman fell from grace and started to behave like Superyob, ignoring grannies who were about to be mown down by a getaway Buick while queuing for their pensions, there was a scene of the rogue S hitting the bottle in a bar. He was drinking whisky, Johnnie Walker to be precise. On the one hand it would appear to be something of a coup to get Superman drinking Red Label but on the other it showed him incapable of flight. And would Tetley's, the sponsors of the England cricket team, have been quite so proud to see their name associated with such a bunch of failures?
Some sponsors can't win for there are a handful of traditional events that defy courtship. People might remark on the Coca-Cola Cup final but are unlikely to say: "Did you see the Martell Grand National or the Beefeaters Boat Race?" In any case in the current climate beefeaters have got enough on their plate.
As for Crenshaw, who defends the Masters next week, Buick's engineers are looking at ways of welding their cap to Gentle Ben's head. Failing that, gleaming white teeth remain an untapped canvas for a promotion with a smile.
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